Communication Key in South African Biocontrols Industry

Communication. It’s essential to all parts of agriculture, and the biocontrols industry in South Africa is no exception. Which is why the inaugural Biocontrols Conference and Expo in Cape Town was the perfect setting to bring all stakeholders to the table.

Growers, distributors, and suppliers attended this two-day conference to connect, discuss the current status of the biological industry in South Africa, and where the industry is going.

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The theme of communication was echoed throughout the first day of presentations held at the Southern Sun Cape Sun. The conference was organized by AgriBusiness Global® in conjunction with the South African Bioproducts Organization (SABO).

“This is a great opportunity to connect with stakeholders, something that doesn’t happen often,” said Johnathan Mudzunga, the Director of Directorate of Agricultural Inputs Control with the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

It was Andre Fox, chairman of SABO as well as the CEO of Madumbi Sustainable Agriculture (Pty) Ltd., who said South Africa was the prime location to hold the conference, and by 2020 the biological industry in South Africa will be a $5 billion USD industry.

“There’s an industry here, it’s thriving,” Fox said.

Mudzunga echoed Fox’s assertion noting that as the dialogue with SABO and other stakeholders in the biological industry in South Africa, more biologics have been registered. The transparency of process and communication has been well-received.

SABO, Mudzunga said, helped fill a need for a “platform to communicate with the sector, as regulator. That platform [SABO] allows us to engage with one another.”

Involving all stakeholders is an important part of the biological product registration process. While communication is vital, having standards that are more uniform worldwide will help in bringing new technologies into the market at a faster pace.

José João Dias Carvalho, Head of Global Business Development and Regulatory Policy, Agro Dossiers, Dr. Knoell Consult GmbH, likened the attempt to create international harmonized MRLs to the different types of international electricity plugs, which amused the international attendees who no doubt needed adaptors for South African plugs.

But, the truth behind Dias Carvalho’s electricity plug comment was to discuss the difficulty there is in getting countries on the same page when it comes to registrations.

He said the lack of broad organizations in the EU to regulate MRLs means there are 30 different organizations with individual standards and approvals. This results in newer technologies not being approved as quickly as older chemistries are pulled as part of EU Regulation 1107/2009 and add to that challenge, for companies seeing to introduce new products, MRL, active ingredient, and substance are all individual EU approvals.

“It’s not predictable when it’s going to happen, you do not have time to react,” Dias Carvalho said of Codex’s active substance review. “This is problematic.”

He also cautioned those biological manufacturers in the audience to be aware of how biologicals are defined, because it is possible those definitions could affect whether a product coming online has MRLs or not.

“For the basic substance, there is no need for an MRL. If nobody applies for MRLs [in the EU], you will get the default 0.01 mg/kg,” he said. “That’s where lots of problems are coming from – this default.”

While navigating EU approvals and standards may be challenging, the industry may look to a different solution, where there are country-specific native strains of biologicals to commercialize, says Matieyedou Konalambigue Abdou, Managing Director of Aflasafe Technology Transfer and Commercialization Program, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Abdou says this may provide an easier route to approvals, instead of importing biologicals and then subjecting them to each country’s approval standards.

Mudzunga echoed this sentiment when he talked about the challenges to harmonization within South Africa when it comes to approvals of biologicals and other crop protection chemistries.

Shimon-Steinberg

Shimon Steinberg, Head of Research and Development for BioBee Sde Eliyahu Ltd.

“Issues of harmonization are difficult,” he said. “At a technical level, it looks like it is a difficult issue.”

Mudzunga says the department is looking at ways to help streamline the registration process. He is also hopeful that policies will be created to reduce growers’ dependence on traditional chemistries and increase biological use.

Communication also extends to the end user of the products as Shimon Steinberg, Head of Research and Development for BioBee Sde Eliyahu Ltd., pointed out. However, in speaking to distributors he said the challenge for companies is to get growers to understand that biologicals are different than traditional chemistries.

They’re not a “launch and forget,” he said. Growers need to realize that monitoring and trapping become a component of biological use.

“The major challenge is to tell [growers] 50%, 60%, 70% [efficacy] can be good enough in certain circumstances,” Steinberg said.